Yvette Vickers dances away at FANEX 5 as my father solos on sax
Yvette Vickers was a cult star, impacting cinema for a few brief years in a handful of movies that are celebrated yet today. Her most noteworthy movies were ATTACK OF THE 50 FT. WOMAN, ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES, REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS and WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH HELEN. She also had guest-starring appearances in TV shows such as WYATT EARP, THE TEXAN, ONE STEP BEYOND, THE REBEL and MY THREE SONS. Vickers perhaps had her most noteworthy supporting role in the Paul Newman classic HUD.
But Susan, me and the gang were excited when Yvette Vickers said “yes” to appearing at FANEX 5, one of our earlier conventions where guests appeared without receiving any monetary compensation. They signed autographs for free, and were excited to meet adoring fans and to be treated as kings and queens for the weekend. Ah, but we made our guests work during our Saturday evening FANEX stage show.
Yvette was best known for playing the sleazy Honey Parker, the bargirl who played the “other” woman to rich bitch wife Nancy Archer (Allison Hayes), with Nancy’s husband Harry (William Hudson) in ATTACK OF THE 50 FT.WOMAN. Playing house by putting up the sizzling hot Honey Parker in a hotel room in town, Harry tolerated the always slightly drunk Nancy, hoping to lock her away forever in a sanitarian, so he could live off her riches and set up a love nest permanently with Parker.
Well, we assembled a band for the upcoming convention. Friend Lon Talbot, a guitar player with a 1960s British Invasion fixation, wrote a marvelous rock ‘n’ roll song called, appropriately enough, THE BALLAD OF HONEY PARKER. Another friend Dave “Charlie” Ellis played bass and local jazz drummer Vince De Leonardi (who played with the great jazz organist Brother Jack McDuff and guitarist George Benson) completed the outfit. Yvette approved the song, one that Lon would himself sing. Yvette promised to be part of the performance, but we never knew how much she would be a part of the performance until Saturday night during the show. Well, when the band introduced THE BALLAD OF HONEY PARKER and Talbot began to wail, his guitar turned up to 10, strutting down the aisle from the back of the auditorium, wearing the tiniest of dresses (and Yvette was well into her 1950s), Yvette came dancing and bouncing down the aisle and jumped up on stage, vamping and shimmying center stage as the band melted into the groove. Jaws were dropping in the audience but the musical performance and live stage show generated more energy than the electrical ending of ATTACK OF THE 50 FT. WOMAN ever could. Yvette was in the zone, bringing back the spirit of the youthful 20-something slut Honey Parker from the grave. Yvette Vickers put everything she had up there on the FANEX stage and shaked and bopped as though 30 years had evaporated from her life. It became one of those many magical FANEX moments. In other words, she did this for herself; she did this for all her fans; she did this for the fun of it. And the people assembled that night will never forget her audacious performance of THE BALLAD OF HONEY PARKER. It was incredible.
Yvette charmed the assembled attendees that weekend, sharing Hollywood stories, tales about her torrid love life with actor Jim Hutton, her current reinvention as a cabaret torch/jazz singer who was playing the local clubs in L.A. and hoping to mount a national tour (she even asked drummer Di Leonardi to go on the road with her). This was the reason she sang the famous Peggy Lee pop classic FEVER when she came front and center to demonstrate her vocal chops that Saturday night.
And Yvette Vickers was among the kindest, most outgoing, friendly guests that FANEX ever sponsored. She wasn’t the type of guest that left the show and we never heard from again. No. Yvette frequently phoned us up, asked about how Sue’s arthritis was doing, how the books and magazines were doing and how the latest conventions were going. She was one of the few guests that actually became a long-distance friend. Hey, we remember how Yvette told us she would attend our show but that she did not fly. Instead she took a train cross country to attend the show. In later convention appearances she overcame her fears and did fly occasionally.
How awful the media made Yvette’s death sound. She was found dead in her house, a mummified corpse that perhaps had been dead for nearly one year. A space heater was turned on when a neighbor found her corpse. She lived alone in the Beverly Hills home that she occupied since the 1950s, a very modest home in a very lush area. The gossip/entertainment national programs said her home was in a deplorable state and referred to her as an obvious hoarder. Only the sensational aspects of her death and the state of her home were reported. And of course color photos of her sexiest PLAYBOY poses were shown. The newspaper press also dwelled upon the sordid nature of her parting and not on the positive contributions she made in the world of B cinema. What a pity that Yvette’s work and art became a momentary blip in a news report that dwelled upon her mummified corpse. How sad that not one friend or relative called during those long months that she must have been dead.
I wish I remembered the exact month Yvette had phoned Sue and me for the final time. I got the phone call and I was reading in our library. I seem to remember it was last winter but it could have last summer. Yvette had not phoned for some time so hearing from her was extra special. We caught up on each other’s lives and then she dropped a sad tidbit of news that may have been more than a little responsible for the sad state of her home at the end. Yvette revealed to me that she was suffering the effects of age-related macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of blindness for the elderly. In this disease a person loses his/her central vision bites and pieces at a time. Living alone and going blind, perhaps her house would not be as well cared for as it formerly had been. Yvette was not wealthy (what B movie star from that era was?) and perhaps could not afford a house cleaner. Her ability to clean and tame the clutter was diminished by blindness. How sad to be growing old and blind, living alone, and having to continue to do the things that we all have to do in a daily routine. How sad to live one’s last days in such a solitary state. And then to die and become a sordid sensationalized media sensation months later! How cruel of the press to reduce her entire lifetime achievements to becoming a mummified corpse, accusing her of phoning people in a drunken tirade (Yvette never phoned us while under the influence) and living in squalor. If Yvette was bitter she never let on to us while appearing at the shows. But if the truth were known, was there ever a B or cult actor or actress who did not desire to make the superstar A list?
But I will always remember the warm and kind FANEX guest (she appeared twice at our shows) and wonderful human being she was. Sue and I will never forgot her smoldering rendition of THE BALLAD OF HONEY PARKER, slinking around and seducing her audience one more time. That performance is a far better testament to her audacious legacy as both singer, dancer and B cult actress than the professional press accorded her. And I am glad FANEX gave her the sendoff she most appreciated and enjoyed. Her body was anything but mummified that evening! And that’s how I will always remember Yvette Vickers!